Ever notice how craptastic you feel after engaging in a round of the comparison game?
Pining after a friend’s beautiful new home. Coveting a colleague’s flashy new car. Envying that acquaintance whose firm pays double what yours does.
You know, wondering why everyone else has a better life than you do.
Sometimes taking note of others’ successes can be inspiring and motivating. But all too often it can leave you feeling lost, inadequate and completely depressed.
Why the Comparison Game is a Losing Proposition
When you look at what others have, you’re really scrutinizing what you don’t have. And when you focus on what you lack, you view the world through a lens of scarcity.
That’s when you start to feel like there’s not “enough” to go around.
Not enough jobs, money or prestige. Not enough free time. Not enough sleep.
And then everything feels like a competition. You’ve got to make partner before your frienemy does. You’ve gotta have the most toned abs, arms and butt of anyone in the office. You’ve gotta exceed your billable hour/case load requirement and still take an exotic vacation to the Galapagos Islands.
All this competitive self talk results in the false belief that you’re not enough.
Welcome to Feels-Like-Shit-Town. Population: You.
Okay, here I go with that life coach-y crap again, but bear with me.
Values are the principles that influence the way you live your life. Essentially what is most important to you. (Click herefor a list of 200+ values.)
For some people, family and relationships are a top priority. For others, financial security is of supreme importance. Personally, I’m all about freedom--which explains why I wasn’t particularly happy as an attorney!
But when it comes to comparing yourself to others, you lose sight of your own values.
Like when I compare our simple yet lovely lawn to our neighbors’ well-manicured and professionally landscaped yard. Yes, our curb appeal pales in comparison to theirs, but why do I even give a crap?
Turns out my neighbors have a passion for gardening and landscape design. For them, they value having an immaculate yard and pay mightily to have it groomed weekly.
I, on the other hand, wouldn’t even think of our home’s appearance when considering my personal values. So although I wouldn’t mind having lawn like my neighbors’, ultimately it’s not very important to me.
In other words, beating myself up about the weeds in our flower beds and cursing my neighbors for making us “look bad”, is a complete waste of my time.
Not only have I made myself feel inadequate over something I don’t really care about, but I’ve also wasted my precious time and energy doing so. #FML
How to Stop Playing the Comparison Game
The ultimate weapon for battling a scarcity mindset is a gratitude journal.
Doesn’t have to be anything fancy. In fact, gratitude journaling can be quick and dirty. Right before you go to bed (or perhaps first thing in the morning for you crazy early birds), jot down at least five items for which you’re grateful.
You’ll jot down noteworthy items--a rave review from your boss, a wedding engagement, your new puppy--and more mundane ones--crisp clean sheets to sleep on, catching up on your DVR shows, getting home from work before 7:00 p.m.
Sometimes you’ll have a list of fifteen. Other days you’ll struggle to hit five.
You might dig keeping a gorgeous notebook from Anthropologie on your nightstand. Or maybe using an app for that is more your speed.
Regardless, you’ll find that when you acknowledge and celebrate all the fabulous aspects of your life, you don’t have a chance to think about what everyone else has or what you’re lacking.
(I’m not just pulling this out of my arse, either. It’s science.)
Set Meaningful Goals
Another way to stop comparing your life to other people’s is to have a clear vision of what you want and a plan for getting it.
So let’s say you perused my little values cheat sheet and identified balance as one of your top values. A meaningful goal would be to exercise for at least 30 minutes four times a week. (Of course, balance can mean different things to different people; this is just an example.)
By specifying what you want to do in order to honor your value of balance, you are far less likely to even notice what other people are doing. Your focus is on achieving balance in your life in a way that makes sense to you.
Contrast this with setting a goal to be the highest billing associate in your department.
Although you are more than capable of reaching this goal, it conflicts with your closely held value of balance. So you’re likely to be less invested (read: more miserable) irrespective of your level of success. Plus, you’ll be playing the comparison game as you snoop around to find out what other people are billing while hoping and trying to bill more than them. No wonder you have no time for working out!
While it’s completely normal to find yourself caught up in the comparison game, you can avoid the whole mess by integrating some small practices into your life. Namely, keeping a simple gratitude journal, identifying your highest held values and setting goals that honor them.
Have fun with it--get a funky notebook and some colorful pens for your gratitude journal. Spend some time playing around with the values worksheet and brainstorming about goals that reflect those values. Once you've done all that, I dare you to have the time and energy to even think about what anyone else has.
What are your top five values? What goal or goals can you set that will help you honor those values in your daily life? Share in the comments!
This post first appeared on Ms. JD as part of my year-long column as a Writer in Residence, "The JD's Life Coach". Ms. JD is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to the success of women in law school and the legal profession.